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'Festival of fun' caps Blues Traveler tour
by Sheryl Hunter
The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA
Nov 24th, 1997

It was the eve of their biggest gig ever. Blues Traveler had landed the coveted opening spot of the first 11 dates on the Rolling Stones mammoth Bridges to Babylon world tour. This high profile outing was guaranteed to boost the band's exposure and also provide a great forum to promote their new album Straight On Till Morning. But the publicity Blues Traveler garnered from the tour wasn't exactly what the record company had in mind.

On September 30th bassist Bobby Sheehan was on his way to a show in Winnipeg, Canada when he was arrested at the Canadian border for possession of two grams of cocaine. Ironically, Rolling Stone Keith Richards was arrested for possession at the same border crossing some 20 years ago.

"Well, I can't comment a lot about that," said drummer Brendan Hill calling from a tour stop in Minneapolis. "But he does feel it was a silly thing to do, the Canadian officials treated us very well, they could have not let us play the show that night but they were generous in letting us perform. But, this is something Bobby needs to deal with and we're taking it seriously."

Sheehan was released on $5,000 bond and has a court date set for January. Early reports that he faced life in prison were greatly overblown and it currently looks like he will not serve any jail time. Hill said that Sheehan's run-in with the law has not interfered with Blues Traveler's current U.S. tour, which wraps up with a final show at Smith College's John M. Greene Hall this Sunday. He added that despite this unpleasant incident the experience of opening for the Stones was a positive one for the band.

"We felt really privileged to be part of something that's such an institution in rock," said Hill. "We learned a lot from them as far as how to make a humongous stadium feel like a theater, so we took a lot of notes."

The British-born drummer first met harmonica virtuoso and singer John Popper when the two were high school students in Princeton, New Jersey. They started playing music together in 1983 and a few years later were joined by fellow classmates Sheehan and guitarist Chan Kinchla. After graduating the band took to the road and stayed there, playing any place that would have them.

Their jam-heavy roots-rock sound coupled with Popper's flashy harmonica chops won them a loyal following. Over time, they became a hot concert draw but mainstream success eluded them until 1994 when they scored a hit with the catchy single "Run-Around," off their fourth album, four.

Blues Traveler now had become a huge success, but when it came time to release a follow-up to four they refused to give into outside pressure to become a hit-making machine.

"We responded to the hit album by breaking up the cycle, we released a live album which was a nice bookmark and a treat to our fans that had been with us for the long haul," said Hill. "The live album also gave us an opportunity to listen to ourselves, because we had to listen to like 40 shows in putting this together and I think we grew from that musically."

Unlike past recording efforts, they spent a great deal of time writing, rehearsing, and recording, Straight On Till Morning, the studio follow-up to four. "Overall, Straight On Till Morning has a nice feel to it, it goes from "Carolina" to "Make My Way" and has a lot of different styles. I'm really proud of it," said Hill. The album, which showcases the band's penchant for jamming and their ear for a good hook, has proven a success, although not on the same level as the seven million-selling four.

When the album was released last July they opted for a tour of Europe instead of playing the H.O.R.D.E. festival which they co-founded in 1992 and continue to oversee.

Hill said they simply wanted a break from touring with the festival, having done it for the past five years, but added that they will be back next year. Blues Traveler plans to headline the 1998 multi-act tour. Ben Harper and Barenaked Ladies have already commited to the project as well. After the Northampton show the band will perform their annual New Year's Eve shows (this year in Pompano Beach, Florida) and then do something that's unusual for them - take a break.

"We need to take some time off so John can work on his leg," said Hill.

"It's been five years since his accident (Popper was seriously injured in a 1992 motorcycle accident) and Chan is having a baby and we're really excited about the new addition to the Blues Traveler family."

Hill, who was married this past year is looking forward to the break but insists that Blue Traveler will remain a touring band and will be back on the road by early summer. Since the Northampton show is the last of the current tour, Hill, promises they will be winding down in true Blues Traveler style.

"We'll be doing two sets, each about an hour and 20 minutes, which is nice to be able to do and there will also be an all-acoustic part of the show. And with this being the last show it promises to be quite a festival of fun.